and I were baptized
when I was 13. It was her idea. She and my father
had recently gotten back together after being divorce
d for 11 years, and she wanted to get remarried in a Catholic
church. I took my upcoming vows very seriously. Not because I believed in anything the church stood for, but because I was 13 and I wanted to be a part of something.
I wore a hand-me-down white gown that was awkwardly tight in the wrong places.
That morning, my father came home from work with a gift from one of the women he cleaned for. It was a white velvet box containing two mother-of-pearl rosaries, one for each of us. The note attached read, "To purity."
I placed my beads around my neck. My mother put hers back into the box and spent the rest of the day in her room "preparing."
I knocked on her door when it was time to go to the church. She exited her bedroom with a half-empty bottle of vodka in one hand, and a homemade cigarette in the other.
By now, my father's entire family had been waiting in our living room armed with cards and smiles. As she sauntered down the hall to the front door, it began to occur to them one at a time that she was drunk beyond all reason. Smiles faded. Panic set in.
She staggered to the car with the hem of her slip showing...lipstick on her teeth. I gripped my new rosary beads, praying for God to salvage this day in any way He could.
My sister and I drove to St. Thomas Aquinas with my Uncle Tony, who proceeded to eye-rape my sister in the front seat and grab my ass on the way out of the car. "You're ripening nicely," He said in my ear, the rest of my mother's vodka on his breath.
We gathered again in the parking lot of the church. After my father managed to wake her up, he pulled my mother out of their car, carried her one-armed down the aisle of St. Thomas, and placed her onto a chair next to me, then took his seat with the rest of the spectators behind and on the sides of us. It was Easter Mass. The lighting was in our favor. Purple and soft. Her redness wasn't obvious.
She slept through most of the mass, and I was careful not to wake her until it was time to walk to the altar.
I nudged her, preparing to take her hand and pull her up. Father Leo cringed when she yelled, "I can't go! I'm not Catholic. I'm a sinner. What about all the abortions, and the men, and the drugs?"
The church was silent. The organ stopped. The other people waiting to be baptized were hiding their faces and trying to be "good Christians" about the crazy woman who was ruining everything holy about Easter... refusing to admit their secret "fuck-off-I-hate-you" thoughts.
Father Leo continued over my mother's sobs. Over my shoulder, I caught quick glimpes of the people looking at me with pity. I saw my grandmother crying into her Bible. I closed my eyes.
It was time for the baptism. We all stood around the altar holding hands. The woman on the other side of my mother was crying from embarrassment, struggling to support her dead weight. I held my mother up with one arm at her waist, and had to walk to the water basin with her when it was time for her to accept God into her heart and let Him heal her. But as we neared the priest, my mother lost her balance and grabbed for me. She caught my rosary beads, sending "Our Father's" and "Hail Mary's" scattering across the church floor, down the aisles, landing at the feet of old women with bunchy pantyhose.
The audience watched in disbelieve and shame. I prayed to God. "Kill me, or kill her. Just take all these eyes off me."
She knelt to the water, while Father Leo consoled her in a most Mr. Rogers-like tone. I wonder if he wanted to drown her as much as I did. Just a fleeting thought. Even good people have limits.
It was my turn. The priest managed to hold my mother up and perform his Godly duties at the same time. But as we walked back to our seats, she slipped on the altar step and cut her forehead. I quickly scooped her up and set her back down into a chair. A man behind me gave me a handkerchief for the bleeding, and she rested her head on my shoulder, babbling and crying. Suddenly, from the pews at the sides of the church, the staring was harder, the faces more contorted. I felt the blood running over the front of my dress.
This was my father's cue to take her outside. I sat in my chair until mass was over with my arms crossed over my mother's blood. When it was time to leave, I ambled toward the door with the rest of the herd, when a random faceless man took my shoulders in his big rough hands, stared straight into my soul and said, "I feel so sorry for you."
I don't remember who drove me home, or whose trench coat I was wearing when I got there.
My mother woke up Christian... And I recognized my divine right to change my mind. After nearly ten years, it is the one thing I still practice religiously.